Hiring blues

Finding good engineers is getting increasingly more complex. It’s clearly an employee’s market. Even in an employer’s market good engineers are tough to find, they all are gainfully employed. Today, finding a job for a good software engineer, is like shooting fish in a barrel, s/he can get multiple offers in a matter of days. And we, the hiring managers, are facing a race against all odds, and, as if competitive pressure was not enough, we have to deal with an incredible pollution of the candidate pool. For every decent candidate, we see dozens of people who are not remotely qualified, or worse than that, frauds or con artists:

  • A Java developer who did exceptionally well on several phone interviews, including deep dive technical discussions, relocates to IL and arrives in the office. Turns out he is not capable of doing any of the tasks he so eloquently explained over the phone. More so he cannot answer the same questions he did just a couple weeks ago… Amnesia? Don’t think so. Lesson learned – use a webcam for the interviews.
  • We hire a contract developer after several rounds of webcam interviews. He asks to do work from home in Seattle since relocation to MN is very difficult for him at the moment. After a few hiccups in onboarding he starts and right from the get-go begins missing one meeting after another. It goes on for a few weeks till one of the team members notices that when we talk with the contractor during morning hours we can hear a great deal of background street noise, and during day time calls the street noise subsides. A little bit of research discovers the reason behind the phenomena – the contractor is connecting from India. Lesson learned – bring them onsite.
  • Ok, we learned our lessons, we interview a great BA, she offers superb skills, personality, and experience. We fly her to Chicago for f2f, she does even better. We put out an offer, moving as fast as we can… We pull all the stops negotiating a great package. And finally, drumroll please, the candidate accepts the offer… from someone else. I guess we covered the tickets for her to interview with a few competitors as well. Lesson learned – you can’t win…

Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom, as a matter of fact we recently bought in some fantastic talent. I am just a bit grouchy after talking a with senior candidate who told me that “AWS is a not-a-sequel database” and a senior QA automation candidate who after “7 years of experience in white, gray and black box testing of web applications” cannot name a single http method.

Well, TGIF, I am sure the next week will be great and I’ll meet someone who can tell the difference between an abstract class and an interface or at least tell a green field from a cold steel rail…

Five Ways to Screw Up Your Content Outsourcing

regret-nohingAs our world becomes increasingly virtual, and therefore more connected, more and more companies are considering content outsourcing for a variety of tasks. This can be a truly great decision for any company, but there are also plenty of ways to screw it up.

For example, a client of mine decided to outsource his company’s blog. He hired a few providers on eLance and moved forward without establishing expectations for quality and even without defining when the work should be delivered. It turned into a complete nightmare after months went by with very few acceptable blog posts. Eventually my friend had to find a new writer. That put his company months behind schedule to meet their viewership goals. In fact, they ended up losing many of their existing followers due to the slowdown in content publishing.

Nothing like that ever happened to you? Maybe something similar? Well, here are five ways you can be guaranteed to screw up your content outsourcing:

Don’t take the time to identify what you really need. Before even beginning the process of outsourcing, you need to identify what it is that you need. Use S.M.A.R.T. approach to identify objectives and criteria for success. If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, it will be impossible to find the perfect person/company for the job.

Don’t do your due diligence. Take the time to research the provider. Ask for examples of their past work. Have them provide references. And spend the time necessary to find out if they really have the skills and knowledge required to do the job well.

Don’t set up clear expectations. Before your new provider ever begins working for you, you need to set up clear expectations. Your S.M.A.R.T. objectives will coma handy at this point. Have specific tasks and milestones for when the work needs to be completed or sent in for review. Miscommunication of expectations can easily kill what could have turned out to be a fantastic relationship.

Don’t get guarantees. Have a contract with your provider that clearly establishes what is expected and that offers guarantees of the quality of work that should be delivered. This helps protect both of you.

Don’t get buy in from everyone. Unless you are a sole proprietor, you likely have at least a few other decision makers that need to be consulted before making a decision regarding outsourcing. In order for outsourcing to be successful you have to receive buy in from all of the people that have a major stake in the outcome.

What do you do to ensure your content outsourcing success? What have been your failures? Or successes? Please share your personal stories and suggestions in the comments below or send me an email at krym2000-po@yahoo.com.

Squeezed between Automation and Outsourcing

rise-of-the-machinesFrom a standpoint of an IT professional offshore outsourcing used to be the biggest threat, a menacing ever-expanding presence that reduced salaries, profit margins, and market size. Large chunks of traditionally local business such as system administration or DBA went offshore into the hands of far less expensive professionals. High salaries and practically guaranteed employment for sysadmins became attributes of the past. And if offshore was not enough, IT industry got hit with a new wave of commoditization – dramatic changes brought about by virtualization, cloud price wars, and IT automation. And these factors affect offshore vendors with the same vigor as they impact local provides and individual contributors here in the USA.

Not so long ago to support a small data center powering a $100MM a year eCommerce operations I needed 4 full time sysadmin resources, had to bring contractors for solving specific skill or peak load issues (that averaged to 2 FTE per year), plus 2 full time DBAs, InfoSec consultants, and a full time IT manager – roughly 10 FTEs. All busy and charging market rates. A roughly two times more complex system supporting $250MM in revenue is operated today by two sysadmins, remote DBA team with the cost of less than a half of an FTE, and a few fractional FTE outsourcing partners for security, monitoring and so on. With very conservative estimates no more than 5 FTEs all together. Thanks to VMWare and Puppet volume of mandarin IT work decreased dramatically with inevitable impact on headcount needs. In meanwhile the quality of service went up a great deal as well. The focus can be now on utilization and productivity rather than firefighting.

And that’s just a beginning. Puppet is a great automation tool but it’s doesn’t take us far beyond copy and paste mentality, new AI powered technologies are taking IT minutia by storm, take for example IPsoft “autonomic IT management services dramatically improve efficiency while driving a predictable high quality of service. We guarantee the outcomes you specify. You will see a positive business impact. IPsoft service models provide the outcomes you need, across your entire environment or one specific tier. Virtual engineers have already been deployed for 1 in 20 Fortune 1000 companies. They deliver IT savings starting at 35% while freeing human engineers to work on functions that drive value.” Freeing human engineers to work on functions that drive value OR look for a new job…

That trend is fantastic for the businesses, not so much for junior IT professionals who are just entering the employment market and even more experienced sysadmins, it’s not a good news for a broad range of IT providers, not even for offshore vendors. The rumors are that in less than 10 years there will be no more IT jobs for US to outsource. You do not need to have a crystal ball or resources of Gartner to see the writing on the wall – IT job landscape is changing and it’s becoming far more challenging with higher demand for advanced skills. Squeezed between Automation and Outsourcing IT professionals to remain marketable must invest in several core technology skills (automation, scripting, virtualization, complex networking and storage) and even more so in soft skills, the only differentiator that has a chance to help them against Rise of the Machines.

Offshore developer rates or how flat is the world?

Substantial difference in employee wages remains one of the main reason for US companies to go offshore. And thus the question of rates comes up often and yet, finding an answer to it remains a never ending straggle. The last few years thrown a few new dimensions in the salary picture making the rate discussion even more ambiguous and complex (I’ll expand on this point shortly). So I was quite excited when an outsourcing advisory firm sent me an offshore pricing guide. Unfortunately, the guide turned out to be rather shallow filled with dubious statements such as: India tends to be inexpensive, due to the huge labor pool; Russia/Ukraine/Belarus tends to be more expensive, due to high education and skill levels; South America tends to be expensive, due to similarities in time zone, language, and culture. Oh, well, no easy answer.

So what really goes on in the world of offshore rates in year 2014?

First, let me expand on the topic of “new dimensions”. Well, they are not new, they just became far more pronounced and in many cases the pivotal factors – changing compensation landscape driven by the ability of people to land first class jobs. Top ISVs and cash rich technology companies like Google or Microsoft took a very simple approach to offshore salaries – “we don’t care where you live, we care what you can do for us”, and just in a few years, that turned offshore recruiting on its head. For example in India 50 lakhs (that’s roughly $100K) a year salaries are no longer unheard of.

50 lakhs is also about 10 times an average salary of a software developer working for company like Tata or Wipro which averages depending on skill between 400,000 and 600,000 rupees a year (1 lakh is 100,000 rupees). At this point only a few chosen ones can get this kind of money, you have to be far above average in your IQ, live in one s/w hubs, and be lucky enough. Such an incredible hike in the upper bar naturally established a new frame of reference and much higher expectations. Good developers are no longer afraid of asking for twice the salary they could get a year or two ago.

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Bookshelf Revised

As with any topic a number of books covering offshore outsourcing could be intimidating. To simplify a task of picking a few “must-read” books, the books that delivers most value, I’ve chosen about 20 titles that give you the best bang for a buck. That list was created a few years ago and needed some refresh work. Naturally my own book had to be added to the list, plus I found a few more very helpful books. Let me mention a couple that are worth considering:

  • Software without Borders: A Step-By-Step Guide to Outsourcing Your Software Development By Steve Mezak. It’s a solid pragmatic guide for offshore outsourcing. The book offers plenty of practical advice in areas such as vendor selection, keeping control of the engagement, SDLC, etc. Written by experienced S/W professional / outsourcing advisor the book is indeed a step-by-step guide. In some areas it overlaps with content of my book, in some it offers more information, e.g. it offers a mode detailed approach to country selection, and goes in a great deal of details about packaging requirements for transferring them to offshore team. Some of the material in the book is a bit outdated and it misses a few critical points related to traps and pitfalls of outsourcing but with $10 price tag and lots of helpful info it could be a great addition to your library.
  • If you work for a large company and offshore outsourcing is a major portion of your job than Outsourcing Professional Body of Knowledge – OPBOK Version 10 is a “must have”. Modeled after famous PMBOK the books goes in great depth on many topics that are particular important for large outsourcing initiatives.
  • And of course Tim Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.” This book is a definitive guide on “outsourcing your life”. While this book has very little to do with professional offshore outsourcing I found it very helpful in several aspects and generally fun reading. Plus the volume of dopamine that reading the book will infuse in your brain is astonishing and probably can only be challenged by pinterest or instagrams of this world ;)

To simplify navigation I put the reference to the list (organized as Amazon book store) in the main menu of the blog – just click on Bookshelf and add ‘em all to your shopping cart, well, at least the first one :)  Note: in the same store you will find my book-lists on a few other topics such as Management, Leadership, SDLC, Negotiations, and others.

Blogroll Revised

I’ve been off my blogging duty for almost a year; needless to say the blog has lost some of its pooling power, traffic, and most important its up-to-date-ness. And even though my focus has never been on “current affairs” and most of the content here is not very time-sensitive I owe to myself and the audience some serious housekeeping / refreshing. The first task is to revise the blogroll – most permanent battery of links on the topic. Unfortunately some of the blogs I used to enjoy are no longer active and some do not even exist anymore. The good news is that some of the old-timers are still going strong, and there are a few new ones with interesting content.

So RIP “Go East – Outsourcing to China”, “Offshore Outsourcing Center”, “Offshore Outsourcing to China”, “Offshore Outsourcing World Blog”, “Shared Services & Outsourcing Network”, “Software Sweatshop”, “The Dao of Outsourcing”… These blogs no longer exist or have moved on to a completely new topic. Sadly, a lot of casualties; and some really interesting material is no longer available.

It looks like a few blogs are dormant or reached the end of life such as “Services Shift by Robert Kennedy” but given that some good data / info is still there I may keep some of these links.

And the good news is that nature abhors a vacuum and thus we have an opportunity. Either my blog will become wildly successful again or we’ll see even better blogs coming up soon enough.

Application Release and Acceptance Guidelines

Oh, not again… How many times do I have to go through a basic process of application release and acceptance? Yet, here it comes again. Lack of understanding of software testing basics, misunderstanding of the roles severity and priority, bizarre views of the acceptance process. It seems like déjà vu all over again ;) And so far I’ve seen it with it with every small offshore s/w development shop that uses waterfall or similar type of process.  So with no more ado let me just state these ABCs of the application release and acceptance…

To accept or not to accept the software should not be a philosophical question. As a matter of fact it should be as subjective as reasonably possible. To stop feelings and egos getting in our way we need to start with setting up a process of release and acceptance. For example, something as simple as that:

Release & Acceptance Process

  1. Offshore team delivers the software change package (SCP) to my secure FTP site. The SCP must include properly named and versioned build, configuration files, metadata, resources, and release notes.
  2. My release team takes the SCP and installs it on User Acceptance Testing environment. If installation is successful release team notifies offshore team. Project Manager and QA/UAT team. If install fails the release team notifies offshore team and Project Manager.
  3. QA/UAT team performs testing according to test plan / strategy that is based on the nature of changes included in SCP. If the system passes Acceptance Criteria QA/UAT team notifies offshore team, PM, Release Team, and Product Manager and clears the SCP to be promoted to staging/production. If the system fails to passe Acceptance Criteria QA/UAT team notifies offshore team, PM, and requests a replacement SCP.

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Recruiting: Getting Organized

An old post that I wrote for me CSM blog. It applies equally well to onshore and offshore hiring.

Common Sense Management

One of my friends has a pretty amazing quality – he manages to pack unbelievable amount of activities in his life. He spends every weekend, holiday, vacation day in actions and activities with his friends and family. The main difference between him and many of us that his activities are typically complex and require a lot of preparation, for example a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Riff, hiking in Peru, or racing in Sea of Cortez.

Anyone who has ever been on one of those trips knows that the key to having fun and enjoying these trips is careful planning. Even a day trip on a familiar trail can be easily ruined by lack of preparation. Planning takes time, as a matter of fact a lot. For some of outdoors enthusiasts planning trips becomes a full time job. But how many of us can afford to spend so…

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5 C’s of offshore success

I just got off the phone with David, an old friend of mine and a VP of engineering for a stealth startup in Boston. His team is doing very well, and who knows, we all may hear about him and his company pretty soon. Needless to say, after half an hour discussion of his great idea and the business model we dove into technical aspects. My friend’s technology stack selection is of no surprise – RoR, MySQL and DynamoDB running on AWS. His SDLC is also far from innovative – SCRUM. What I found rather unusual for this stage of the game was a heavy utilization of offshore that he described as one of strategic decisions he made early on. Over 80% of his engineering workforce is based in Argentina, and given the fact that he’s never been outside of this country, it was somewhat a surprise. David rates his experience of using offshore as “one of the smartest moves I’ve done”. We let the time be the judge of that, but in meanwhile a few observations –

David’s motivation for using offshore was very common – bootstrapping the company with current local salaries is close to impossible, finding local talent is not easy and far too time-consuming, especially, getting agile web development skills. So offshore seemed like a sensible path to take. Near-shore preference came from his “control freak” nature. “I just want to see them on the Skype, want to be able to check, ask, re-focus in real time. Time zone differences is not for me.” Having gone through a lot of “bad” and very little “good” experience with offshore he used a small advisory firm to find partner and manage the offshore relationship. But that was not the key to success. “What makes us successful in using offshore are the 5 Cs –

  • Clarity – know exactly what the goal / objective is, what result/outcome you expect – in a great level of details.
  • Conviction – be absolutely sure that you can achieve your goal / objective – research, analyze, what-if to death, and then cut off alternatives and move forward.
  • Commitment – be prepared to put the effort required to achieve your goal / objective; the problems will happen, don’t let them deter you from the path you’ve chosen.
  • Consistency – execute with persistence, keep your eyes on the ball; do not drop best practices, even though they seem at times to be nothing but unnecessary overhead.
  • Collaboration – make sure that every aspect of your activities has been properly communicated to every member of your team, discussed and accepted by them.

I asked David whether it’s possible that he just got lucky with his partner, but he did not support that idea – luck has no place here since it begins with L :D

Offshore Fears and Disaster Recovery Planning

fearThe most common emotion associated with introduction of outsourcing in organization, running offshore engagements, and even terminating relationship with an outsourcing vendor is fear. At least that is what I’ve observed over the years. Fear comes in many shapes and forms – anxiety, worry, distress, alarm, panic, paranoia and so on. We worry about so many things – deadlines, turnover, communication failures, key contributors… the list goes on and on.

We worry about many things, and most of them never happen. As a matter of fact, experience shows that 99% of things that we worry about to do not happen, and when things do happen events come at us so fast that we have no time to worry.  Yet we continue to live in paranoia thoroughly convinced that outsourcing world is out to get us. Continue reading

Offshore Manager Daily Routine

Last night I met with Chris, an old friend of mine who manages relationships with a large group of software developers and QA engineers located in Campinas, Brazil. He’s been working with this team for over a year after being brought in for a short term contract – an offshore “rescue” operation. The relationship between his client and offshore provider was going nowhere quick. Milestones missed, quality of deliverables deteriorating, blame shifting and finger pointing proliferated. The relationship was clearly falling apart and management frustration reached a point where they no longer were prepared to deal with the vendor.

Apparently the history of the offshore relationship for Chris’s client was rather consistent – find a new vendor, go through 3-6 honeymoon period, then things start braking here and there, the company attempts to improve situation by assigning one of the employees, s/he attempts to salvage the situation, but after a some period of temporary improvements things go from bad to worse and the search for a replacement vendor is initiated… and the cycle repeats. By the time Chris came on board his client was on fourth vendor, this time a small company from Brazil.

The problem was “100% with the vendor” – “lack of understanding of the company’s objectives, poor English and overall communication skills, high turnover, mañana attitude, etc., etc.” – at least that what was what the client told Chris.

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Top Ten Mistakes in Offshore Interviews

I intended to put a bunch of illustrations in my book, but only four pics made it there. Space was the major limiting factor, but I guess one of the pictures, 3 monkeys, was not included because it did not pass the “political correctness” bar. Well, I can imagine that some people in the audience could be offended with the term “code monkey”. There was no derogatory indication there, like there was no intent to portray all managers, including myself, as gorillas ;) the main point was actually quite lucid – it’s difficult to find good engineers, especially when during interviews many of them refuse to listen, see what’s going on, or talk.

Finding good engineers is difficult, especially when you are trying to do that through a third party reaching across thousands of miles via poor VoIP connection. There are not too many really good engineers to begin with, so no surprise here. But the lack of talent is not the point of today’s discussion. What I’d like to touch upon is the mistakes we often make while interviewing developers, mistakes that can result in missing those needles in haystack / diamonds in the rough.

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Wanted – Outsourcing Checklists

A few days ago I got my hands on a The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande.

Not knowing the author’s background I was expecting a book from some professional organizer, a guru of “getting things done”. Maybe one of those how-to self-improvement books that I typically pick up on my way to a transcontinental flight to deal with my inability to fall asleep while squeezed in a middle seat. The book was nothing of a kind and if anything it reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s masterpieces. To make text even more interesting a lot of the examples and ideas in the book came from the blood, sweat and tears of the author himself, not various people he interviewed. As I shortly realized even though Atul writes like a professional journalist the writing isn’t his day job, or at least not his only day job… In addition to being a best-selling author he is a MacArthur Fellow, a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health… Wow, how one can manage all that and also deal with three kids!?

Anyway, the main message of Checklist Manifesto is quite simple – in many activities the volume and complexity of knowledge required to perform them have exceeded any single individual’s ability to manage it consistently. The only way to deal with inevitable problems is to deploy tools that improve the outcomes and minimize errors without adding even more complexity to the task itself. That seems almost impossible unless we look at a simple, age old tool, that can help almost any professional – a common checklist. Of course, it’s not “just a checklist”, there is more to a good checklist than a set of nicely formatted boxes. The author illustrates it on multitude of examples with the most interesting being in the fields of aviation (where the work of creating checklist has reached the level of art and at the same time widely accepted as mainstream tool) and in his own domain – surgery and public health.

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Saving Face

A couple days ago I was working on incorporating feedback from a second round of technical reviews into my (hopefully soon to come!) book on outsourcing. The topic that was keeping me awake was related to one of the most important dimensions of managing distributed teams – communication. Let me cover one of the aspects of this topic here since I am not planning on including it in the book. This aspect is in particular important for companies with little experience in cross-cultural communications and casual work environment.

It seems that it was not so long time ago even though more than a decade has passed from a great offsite meeting my company arranged for our large implementation team in Napa Valley. The meeting was a huge success with a bunch of engaging discussions, productive breakout sessions, and provoking brainstorming exercises. Needless to say the location promoted a fun celebratory activities as well. By 9 PM the soberest members of the team were rather tipsy, the rest of us were feeling no pain. That’s when one of my brightest tech leads run to me asking for help. Sanjiv was rather disturbed, confused and irritated. “Nick, Jennifer [[one of our company execs]] just offered me a blow job! I don’t know what to say, what to do… She is obviously an executive but I am married!” Having lived most of his life in India Sanjiv was quite accustomed to large parties, but not to the likes of that one. Nor did he know the name of a popular then cocktail which Jennifer so “innocently” offered to him. It took a little of explanation and forced laughter to get Sanjiv back to normal but I am afraid the damage was done – while there was no sexual harassment in sight, there was obviously a case of making someone look stupid in front of his friends and co-workers.

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Finding freelancers simplified

How to find a freelancer? Where can I find a web developer? Is there a place where I can find graphical artists? Finding the answers to these questions is getting increasingly easier and more complex at the same time. It seems not so long ago the main channels for finding freelancers were the same as for finding new employees – job ads and networking – not any more. The main channels for reaching out to vast freelancing community are now online freelancing directories or freelancing marketplaces. Great sites like odesk.com, elance.com, guru.com and many others taking over from monster.com and indeed.com.

Many of the directories enjoy a large community of freelancers and vendors of varies sizes, an impressive number of customers, and a huge volume of transactions. As a matter of fact the transaction volume for many of the marketplaces has been growing at exponential rate.  The stats are truly amazing. Needless to say such a lucrative business attract many players and inevitably creates a new challenge for both customers and providers – which marketplace to use? Which directory is better for finding freelance writers, which one is for graphical artists and where to find those illusive RoR developers?

A few years ago I created a list of 25 best places to find a freelancer, fairly soon the list grew to 50 some entries, and become notably less helpful. To make it a bit more useful I added Alexa rating and it worked for a while. However recently I got a few comments on quality of the list – it was missing some good sites, Alexa rating was dated, and so on. That called for updating the list and that what I just did with help of my virtual assistant Yesha from Cagyan de Oro City, Philippines. She did an outstanding job cleaning up the list verifying links and rating in just a few days. BTW, I found Yesha on oDesk, she was one 40+ people who bid on my project within a couple hours after I posted it.

Anyway, the list is now updated with new entries and ratings. I also formatted it slightly different – you will now see a list with “the best 25 places” that links to three other list—full list of sites sorted by the Site Name, the same list sorted by Alexa and the same list sorted by Alexa US ratings.

As usual, feel free to comment and suggest new entries. I will update the list in ~12 months from now.

down-to-earth guide to offshore outsourcing

About a year and a half ago I came up with a crazy idea – to approach a couple publishers with a proposal for a book on outsourcing. Not too original or novice idea, there are plenty books out there, yet, I thought I could put together

something better. The first publisher I approached was The Pragmatic Programmers an agile publishing and training company started by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas, the authors of famous The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master. Needless to say the name of my blog had something to do with the choice of publisher. To my astonishment they accepted my proposal and awarded me with a contract for a full size book. I was told that getting a book contract from the first proposal is akin to winning a lottery, so I was honored, excited and… apparently clueless.

What I did not know is that the prize in the lottery is a package of hard labor, countless hours, and ongoing frustration. Even though so much material was already in place I found myself in writing and re-writing for days, weeks and months. This “hobby” on a top of full time job became a considerable burden, nevertheless after 9 months or so I produced ~450 pages of what I thought was great material. Nope, not great and far too much of it, I was told by my reviewers. From that point on my writing changed to a code-test-refactor dance with my editor doing the testing. And that was far more complex than producing the original pile. Hopefully the results would be worth the effort.

So far I am happy with much more concise content, roughly 250 pages, that reads far better than original, is better structured, and caters to the audience I always had in mind, not just to an exact replica of myself. Alas, I’m still far from seeing the light in the end of the tunnel – there are more reviews coming up and some of them may require a significant reshuffle of content / structure and dramatic changes in wording. When I complained to my editor about time it’s taking to get the book out and how profound the last change request were she said that one of the authors has been through 3 technical reviews, three managing editor reviews, two publishing editor reviews, and the book is still WIP… Basically, brace yourself, we are just starting :)

Yep, writing is not blogging and is not for the faint of heart, nevertheless I am already thinking about the day the book will be out. More so I decided to create an email sign up list for those interest in the book. I used wufoo forms to create it – pretty nifty SaaS from the same crew that created surveymonkey. I used their free offering and was quite impressed with what it had to offer. Anyway, the book is going to be a down-to-earth guide to offshore outsourcing based on my experiences and those of my friends and colleagues, and information from books, industry publications, and outsourcing blogosphere. Chances are if you like my blog you will enjoy the book as well, and more so find it easier to read, navigate and chockfull of information. So go ahead and put your name / email in this form. I will be happy to let you know when the book is ready for your eyes. BTW, you also can apply for a role of “technical reviewer”. My publisher is looking for ~10 people to do the next round of reviews. The reviewers will need to read the book, reply to a simple survey, and provide any feedback they might have, in return reviewers get a free copy when the book is published.

Knowledge Crowdsourcing

I get a lot of spam on my email account I publicize in this blog and yet I prefer to keep it since once in a while something interesting comes in. Earlier this morning I deleted a couple dozens of emails suggesting link exchange and other “wonderful” ideas on improving my blog, for some reason one email caught my eye, and boy I’m glad I did. It was an advertizing of service that I have not heard of. Clearly spam yet unusually so it was worth looking at. The company Mancx turned out to be an outsourcing marketplace with a very interesting model – it offers knowledge crowdsourcing. Think about LinkedIn answers but with a price tag attached to it. Ask your question, put a $$ amount you are prepared to pay for it, and maybe someone in a crowd will answer it. Of course you can be one of many who answer the questions at the same time.

I browsed through the site and instantly found a few things that were wrong with it. I guess the team needs a good product manager and usability expert. Yet I loved the idea. How many times I found myself desperately looking for the answers to questions to no avail? I am sure that many of you did as well. And at the same time the chances are the answers are out there, someone knows exactly what I am looking for, it’s on the tip of their tongue, on the top of their mind… You can do ad hoc knowledge outsourcing. I think it’s one more step towards making the world flat since the person who answers your question could be sitting in a cubicle near you or just about 15,000 miles away.

One thing is interesting though, the business model and software behind the site seems to be so easy to replicate. In particular it could be implemented almost instantly by LinkedIn or Facebook, so hopefully guys Mancx have some tools to protect themselves.

i need a team

I guess I have to start with a profound apology. It’s been incredibly busy few months for me. I left my job with PDR in May and has been consulting to several startups and looking for new opportunities since. At some point I found myself being a part-time CTO for three companies, while still working on my book, running regular home chores and trying to invest time in personal health/fitness at the same time… Needless to say my blog had to take a backseat to high priority tasks and activities. While I am still as busy as I’ve been for months things are stabilizing and once in a while I can now put a few hours to share my thoughts on new challenges and ideas related to IT outsourcing – something that many of us see on daily basis.

Today I’d like to touch upon a topic which is dear and close to many of us working for small companies. An ability to attract resources. And I am not talking about challenges akin to finding RoR developers to work in Palo Alto. That’s a generic problem that everyone in the Silicon Valley, even big guys like Groupon is facing today. Economy may not be showing it but the market for good developers is hot, habanero chili hot. What I’d like to do it to talk about finding decent offshore developers, and apparently market for them is hot as well…

Let me clarify my point – I am looking for decent developers – not “mediocrity in bulk” that large offshore providers would be happy to ship my way. Just a few weeks ago I was looking for a team of 5 Java developers for one of my startups. The team had to come with one senior-, 2 mid-, and 2 junior-level developers. No special, hard-to-find skills required, plain server side Java. I went to three of my long-time offshore connections just to learn that lead time to build such a team is 2 to 3 months! Well, these were very small boutique companies who offer reasonable rates and good contract terms.

So I had to amp up the intensity and go for 2nd / 3rd tier vendors. High price, more restrictive, but surely they can put the team I need in a couple weeks. Nope… Well, they told me they can, and after two rounds on interviews with proposed teams I realized that finding my Java team would be almost as difficult as with my smaller providers. Isn’t it amazing that tons of good people can’t find a decent job and at the same so many companies can’t find decent resources, and offshore takes it to the whole new perspective.

So what can we do? What is the path towards building your team in today’s hot market? Here are just a few ideas that I am testing as we speak –

  • Settle for less. Wow, you may say – that’s a loser’s talk! We only recruit the best of the best!… in this case good luck to you, and you will need it, and even more so you will need a lot of patience, as cream of the crop is hard to find. In meanwhile I will be looking for bright and not necessarily so experience guys. I will put more emphasis on personality match and not necessarily on tech skills as I am prepared to help them grow.
  • Be swift. Hold your horses, you might say. We put every developer, offshore or hire, through 10 rounds of interviews, before we bring them on board. Of course that’s great, and by the end of 10th interview you could be still wrong (happens to the best of us) and so many months behind… Carpe Diem… You snooze you lose. That’s particular true with offshore, and what makes this strategy very forgiving in offshore world that if the hire doesn’t work out it’s easy to let them go, no HR to deal with.
  • Trust your vendor. Well, Nick now it’s way too much, what a nonsense! Well, if you do not trust your vendor why are you still doing business with them? Of course trust mean to delegate not abdicate your responsibilities. It’s the team you putting for yourself, and nobody can help you better with your task, your vendor just need to be managed so they can help you in a meaningful way. Ask your vendor to help, trust them, and help your vendor to help you…

OK, it’s high time to run to the airport, back to San Francisco, I miss it so much.

Mid-term sales call

I looked at my previous post and felt rather embarrassed, it’s been over four months since I wrote anything. That gets me thinking of a line from Leonard Cohen “I’ve been running through these promises to you | That I made and I could not keep” Am I running out of things to say? Am I too busy for even a few lines? Is outsourcing is no longer an interesting topic? Well, none of that is true, I guess it’s just a combination of little and big distractions amplified by work pressure and self-inflicted pains of writing… yep, I’ve been cheating on the blog with some other creative work – writing a book based in a large degree on this blog. I’ll talk about a book later, for now just a few thoughts triggered by my latest meeting with an offshore provider we use at PDRN.

A few weeks ago the president of my company requested updates from our technology offshore providers. Not being sure what were his specific needs and objectives, I turned to my vendors asking them to present their companies as if they were selling their services. Of course update need to include to-date achievements and other relevant topics. For me the sales pitch was most interesting though. The first vendor already had their 60 minute of fame and frankly I was quite pleased with what I saw.

  • The first thumbs up goes for bringing big guns – flying several senior folks from different cities. That’s quite common for sales calls, and treating customer to some brass in an engagement midterm is a good idea.
  • The presentation articulated well a few “key differences” mildly spiced with competition slander. If that was my first offshore presentation I would probably believe most of them. Well, even with understanding marginality of the differences it was impressive.
  • The capabilities of the vendor were communicated well and that transformed into risk mitigation in minds of the audience.
  • The relevance of the vendor’s capabilities to my company needs was well position and generated a few requests that might result in some business down the road. I guess that’s the area which could used a review with me prior to the meeting. Would probably generated more interest, and so on.
  • Also, what was interesting even though it was cut short by the brutal clock is a quick presentation on technology trends. That got me even somewhat jealous – those guys have the time to stay current with the trends and ideas brewing in the market! According to the slides the technologies that are still only on my horizon are already obsolete, boy, I’m driving a slow car nowadays.

Expending a bit on the last bullet, can be your offshore provider be also your technology guiding light? Can you entrust an offshore company with forming your technology vision? Of course the answer is as always – “it depends” :) It depends on capabilities of the vendor, on their focus and MO, and on many other factors. And yes, if you are interested in outsourcing technology vision it is quite possible. There are a few important point to consider

  • Your partner should have people capable of doing the task, high caliber true technologists, not just the gadget geeks and trend chasers.
  • Your provider should not have a conflict of interest. If the vendor has a bunch of .NET developers on the bench chances are the “next big thing” would be .NET.
  • You should be able to define SMART goals and objectives for the “technology research” deliverables.
  • Make sure that you request some interim and collateral deliverables that will allow you to understand the background behind the findings.
  • Consider multi-sourcing the vision or at least getting second opinion, as R&D tasks could be heavily biased by guru’s opinion and personal preferences.

Well, I think that qualifies for a “come up for air” post and I should dive back into my day job chores now :)